What is Financial Infidelity? All About Being Married with Separate Finances

Christine Luken
March 25th, 2019 | 4 minutes
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“Is it okay to have some of my money separate from my partner once we’re married?” As a financial coach, I’m asked some variation of this question on almost a weekly basis.

The way people handle money as a couple is as varied as the selection of paint colors at Home Depot. Some couples combine their finances 100%, some couples keep their finances 100% separate, and others make their own rules.

I always answer this question the exact same way: “Yes, it’s okay to have separate money, as long as it’s not secret money.”

If you are in a long-term, committed relationship, you should not have any hidden debt, investments, credit cards, or savings accounts. If you’re legally married, your debts and assets belong equally to both you and your spouse (unless you have a prenup). I want you to think of money as the third person in your relationship. You need to be transparent with your spouse about what’s going on between you and your money, because it also affects their net worth, credit score, and ability to borrow, not just yours.

Keeping some part of your relationship with money hidden from your partner is what I call “financial infidelity.” The issue here really isn’t the money (or debt) itself, but a lack of trust.

What is financial infidelity?

In my 20’s, I was engaged to “Jeff” who was terrible at managing money. I would hide money from him all the time. I knew he would figure out a way to blow it, but I needed the money for bills. The bottom line: I didn’t trust Jeff, so I hid money from him and lied to him about how much I had in the bank. My relationship with money became dysfunctional because my relationship with Jeff was dysfunctional.

The same thing is true if you are hiding credit cards or other debt from your partner. You don’t trust your spouse enough to be honest with them. Maybe you know what you’re doing isn’t financially healthy, but you’re not yet ready to change your ways.

If you have any amount of financial infidelity in your relationship, it’s a destructive breeding ground for distrust, arguments, and fighting. Disagreements over money are one of the top reasons that couples break up or get divorced. The good news is that once you get on the same page with your honey about money, your relationship will vastly improve. So many couples I’ve coached have said the process helped their marriage improve as much their money.

Money and trust go hand-in-hand

If you have hidden debt or money from your spouse, ask yourself why you feel the need to keep it secret. Is there a deeper issue in your relationship that’s causing this? It’s time to get “financially naked” with your partner and come clean. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of couples counseling if there are relationship issues, beside just the finances.

It’s totally okay to be married and have some money in separate accounts. All of the accounts should be visible and accessible by both spouses. My husband and I have eight accounts between us. Some are separate accounts for our “fun money” and savings for major goals like cars. However, both of our names are on ALL of our accounts.

Why is this important? If one of you is hospitalized, disabled, or dies, the surviving spouse may not be able to gain immediate access to the other’s money. Not only would you be dealing with a tragic life event, but also a stressful financial situation.

So here’s the bottom line: If you’re married or in a long-term committed relationship, it’s okay to have separate money, not secret money. By setting aside regular time for Money Dates with your spouse, you’ll be on your way to a great relationship with both your honey and your money.

Christine Luken, The Financial Lifeguard, is a certified money coach, speaker, and the author of "Money is Emotional: Prevent Your Heart From Hijacking Your Wallet." She has over a decade of experience coaching individuals, couples, and entrepreneurs and loves empowering others to rescue their financial dignity.

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